Last V8 Standing: Which Automaker Will Be Last to Abandon the V8 Engine?

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Mad Max Interceptor, Fury Road/Image Credit: MadMad.Fandom

Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald

“She’s the last of the V8s. You can shut the gate on this one, Maxie, it’s the duck’s guts.”

Mad Max, 1979

Since at least the first fuel crisis in 1973, prognosticators and industry analysts have been predicting the end of the V8 engine, either due to its fuel economy, emissions, or any other number of factors. For the last 50 years, though – half as long as the production V8 has been a thing – the engine has managed to survive. But as pressure mounts to move to turbocharged four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines, or go without an internal combustion engine entirely, will the V8 engine finally sing its swan song and disappear from the landscape entirely? If so, which manufacturer will be the last holdout? 

What is a V8 Engine and What Made it So Popular? 

Smallblock Chevrolet V8/Image Credit: Daderot, via Wikipedia

A V8 is an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine, with two banks of four cylinders connected to a crankshaft in a V-angle. 

Most V8 engines throughout history have had a 90-degree V-angle and a cross-plane crankshaft. That V-angle is important if you think about the rotation of the crank. The crankshaft has to spin in a circle, and the crankshaft has four crank pins at angles of 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees, equally divided between eight cylinders. A V-6 simply can’t do that, because there are three cylinders on each bank, leading to all kinds of odd crankpin angles to compensate for the inherent imbalance. 

The other common eight-cylinder variant is the straight-8. These were in use by premium auto manufacturers and aircraft builders that didn’t care so much about efficient packaging. There was plenty of room for eight cylinders in a line in a Daimler or an Isotta Fraschini. Not so much in a Ford

In pre- and post-war American automotive production, the V8 was the best of all possible worlds, providing smooth, quiet operation, excellent power, and efficient packaging.   

V8 Engine History 

Ford Flathead V8/Image Credit: Wikipedia

V8 engines have been around nearly as long as automotive production. The first was a racing engine from France, from a company called Antoinette in 1904. The first road-going vehicle to use one was a Rolls-Royce, but only three cars using the engine were ever built. The Hewitt Touring Car was the first American vehicle to use a V8 engine. In 1914, Cadillac built the first mass-produced V8, aided along by Charles Kettering’s development of the electric starter. You weren’t going to turn a V8 by hand the way you could an inline four. 

While many companies put V8 engines to use in the 1920s, it was Ford that set the pace with a V8 engine developed for use in a mass-market automobile. The Flathead V8 made its way into low-cost vehicles from Ford from 1932 to 1954. Chevrolet wouldn’t offer its own V8 for sale until 1955, developing the Smallblock V8 for use in the 1955 Chevrolet 210, finally paving the way for that company to bypass Ford sales. 

From that point forward, American automotive production relied upon the V8. Almost every car offered between 1960 and 1973 at least had a V8 option, if it didn’t start out with a V8 as a standard feature.

Peak V8 

You can make arguments for other model years, but 1978 was probably “Peak V8.” General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler represented a titanic 85 percent of the U.S. automotive market. At that time, Toyota had the largest market share of any foreign automaker, with 3.48 percent of the market.  From that point on, American auto manufacturers began losing market share almost annually, to a point where they represent about 43 percent of the market today. 

American companies were synonymous with V8 production. Japanese and European manufacturers were not. Throughout most of the 1980s, most Japanese cars were four cylinders. Europeans used a mix of fours and inline sixes. V8s were more common from Japanese and European manufacturers in the 1990s and 2000s, but they were only in use in luxury vehicles, performance cars, and the few full-size trucks offered. 

With pressure on manufacturers to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy, the V8 engine went from a household appliance to specialty equipment. Leaving aside trucks, there are currently three American sedans available with a V8: The Dodge Charger, the Chrysler 300, and the Cadillac Blackwing V8. Several European manufacturers use them in select luxury performance vehicles, but no middle-market car has a V8 from Europe. Lexus moved to six-cylinder with the LS500. Genesis no longer offers the 5.0-liter V8 in the G90 and Kia dropped its K900 in 2020. 

The Last of the V8s 

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06/Image Credit: Chevrolet

Full-size trucks and SUVs are the last bastions for the V8 engine. Ford’s V-10 never caught on, so the V8 has soldiered on as the primary motivating force for pickups. Simultaneously, truck manufacturers have developed performance from their V-6 and even four-cylinder engines that outpace the power provided by V8s. 

Toyota ditched its V8 for the 2022 model year, opting instead for a twin-turbo V-6 in the Tundra. Its hybrid drivetrain is the most powerful driveline it offers, leaning on the instant torque of the electric motor instead of any fuel savings it might provide. Nissan’s Titan still offers a carryover 5.6-liter V8, but Nissan only managed to sell 27,000 Titans last year, so its impact on the truck scene in general is limited. 

That leaves Ford, GM, and RAM. Ford has made enormous headway selling the EcoBoost V-6 in place of the V8 in the F-150. The Coyote V8 is a decade old at this point, but – for the moment anyway – Ford is still wedded to offering the V8, at an $800 premium over the price of the EcoBoost. It only sells one car with a V8 – the Mustang – which only sells about 55,000 units a year, a good percentage of which are V8s. 

Stellantis has made a lot of noise recently with the development of its 3.0-liter GME-T6 HO turbocharged inline six, which has Jeep Wrangler fans excited, but Charger and Challenger fans skeptical. 

GM has three cars with the V8 today – the Camaro (about 22,000 units in 2021), the Blackwing V8, and the Corvette. The Z06 promises 60 miles per hour in 2.6 seconds. 

If we’re placing any bets, we’re going to wager that the Corvette is going to be the last car – sedan, coupe, convertible or otherwise – to move on from a V8. It’s been synonymous with V8 power since 1956, and selling 33,000 units in 2021 at a premium, Chevrolet can afford to have it on its corporate average fuel economy books for quite a while. 

Regardless of what happens, it’s clear that this is not the 1970s, when fuel economy and lower emissions came with low performance and terrible reliability. Modern turbocharged engines are just as reliable as their V8 counterparts, and electric motors offer breathtaking power, even as their massive battery packs push curb weight well over what we’d expect from a conventionally powered vehicle. The V8s days may be numbered, but the promise of even greater performance is here already. 

Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.

 

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